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Thursday, 17 February, 2000, 22:46 GMT
Farmers 'abandon GM crops'
Buyers are paying a premium for non-GM grain
The world's biggest producers of genetically-modified crops are planning to sharply reduce their planting this year, evidence from the US suggests.

The move is in response to widespread consumer resistance in Europe and Japan, and an international agreement last month allowing countries to restrict imports of GM foods.

Farmers in the United States, Canada and Argentina are expected to reduce plantings by 20% to 25%, Washington-based environmental group Worldwatch predicted.

If more American manufacturers hop on the bandwagon, the drop in demand would be devastating for transgenic growers

It said the figure was based on separate estimates for each of the three nations - which account for virtually all GM crops round the world.

A survey by the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) also indicated that plantings of genetically-engineered maize were set to fall by 16% this year.

The drops are being attributed to concern among farmers that their produce will not sell.

The statistics are a blow to the bio-technology revolution led by US farmers, which over the past four years has seen the area planted worldwide with GM crops increase 20-fold from 2 million to nearly 40 million hectares.

Worldwatch said: "If more American manufacturers hop on the bandwagon, the drop in demand would be devastating for transgenic growers and seed producers."

Greenpeace demonstration
Campaigners have raised concerns about GM crops
Worldwatch interviewed seed company representatives, farmers' organisations and officials of the US Department of Agriculture.

The group points to figures showing that last year American exports of soya beans to the European Union fell by nearly a half, while the drop for maize was even more marked, from 2 million tonnes to little more than 100,000 tonnes.

Seed companies said that with the US Midwest spring planting season not yet under way, it was too early to determine if American plantings of biocrops would decline this year.

Food under the microscope
But the 16% decline indicated by preliminary figures in the ACGA survey of nearly 600 randomly-selected maize farmers gives a more concrete picture of planting intentions. The full survey will not be completed until next week.

A larger industry body, the National Corn Growers Association, says few seasons have appeared as risky as this one. It says anti-GM campaigners have created uncertainty for everyone who grows, markets and handles corn.

American consumers have so far shown little concern about eating GM products. But last month, two big food and drink companies in the US said they would be buying only non-GM grain.

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See also:

29 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
GM deal finds favour all round
29 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Controls agreed on GM imports
24 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Montreal: The arguments
01 Apr 99 |  Food under the microscope
The power of genes
18 May 99 |  Food under the microscope
GM food: Head to head
25 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Protests at GM food talks
06 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
Charity warns against GM seeds
05 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
Brakes put on GM industry
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